Exploring future NATO rotorcraft capabilities

The fourth edition of Combat Helicopter will inform the tri-services community with a clear understanding of future capabilities for next generation, multi-role rotary platforms. We examine the future NATO rotorcraft capabilities, to be discussed at Combat Helicopter 2017

As systems become more complex, consideration at the design stage becomes increasingly important. This requires an early identification of clear requirements, with options set out that enable forces to choose the optimal solution for their mission requirements.

NATO are currently undertaking a collaborative approach to their future rotorcraft capability platform requirements in conjunction with the US Future Vertical Lift Initiative. The aim is, by the mid-2020s when partner nations decide on their future platform requirements, for their to be sufficient knowledge sharing and capability awareness to develop optimal configuration across all platforms and missions.

A recently approved NATO Industry Advisory Group in supporting next generation rotorcraft roadmap will examine configuration changes which will provide a step change in range, speed, endurance, payload combined.

The US Future Vertical Lift Initiative meanwhile is well underway with the first prototypes already built for their future helicopter, Joint Multi Role Technical Demonstrator, which is a precursor before the US Army decides how to proceed with a Future Vertical Lift (FVL) (Medium) rotorcraft. The resulting helicopter programme will replace the Sikorsky UH-60 BLACK HAWK and Boeing AH-64 APACHE fleets from around the mid-2030s.

The two participants in the programme are Bell Helicopter with its V-280 VALOR third-generation tiltrotor and the Boeing/Sikorsky partnership with its SB>1 DEFIANT, based on Sikorsky’s X2 technology, coaxial main rotor design and rear pusher propeller.

NATO’s NIAG programme
NATO’s NIAG programme has concluded it is already apparent a single main rotor is not the future. However, the future could be co-axial, or compounded with pusher props or fans or propellers or advanced tilt rotors, whichever will deliver optimal configuration for future missions.

The programme intends to develop a versatile medium lift air vehicle in the FVL Family of Systems, capable of conducting assault, urban security, attack, maritime interdiction, medical evacuation, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, tactical resupply, direct action, non-combatant evacuation operation and combat search and rescue operations in support of army and joint forces.

The range of missions is wide since, although the programme is army-led, it is intended that platforms be offered for use by other services, to include the US Navy, USMC, USSOCOM, and even the Coast Guard (USCG).

Dan Bailey, NATO programme director and chairman of the NATO Future Rotorcraft Capability Team, will be discussing the role of the Joint Multi Role Technology Demonstration in establishing Future Vertical Lift and the effects on NATO next generation rotorcraft capability planning.

Decisions are still to be made on flight controls, aeromechanics, experimental aerodynamics and drive systems. This promises to be an inspiring session for industry and NATO partners to plan a roadmap delivering optimal solutions for future mission requirements.

Largest and heaviest helicopter in the US Military
The workhorse of the aviation community is making a significant comeback. Many nations are planning, conducting and finalising medium and heavy lift helicopter acquisition programs. Nations understand they are an asset to any force, capable of lifting troops and supplies into austere environments in all conditions. Whilst completely new engines are rare there is still the desire for increased power-to-weight ratios, reducing maintenance and improving fuel efficiency.

Boeing's Chinook still dominates the heavy lift market but many competitors are starting to make their presence felt and countries are looking at alternatives platforms. Prices are high but the choices are good - Sikorsky's King Stallion can carry over 80 tonnes, or Bell Boeing's V-22 can carry loads at over 300mph.

At a cost of $25billion, CH-53K King Stallion doesn’t come cheap. Developed for the US Marine Corps, the programme will deliver the largest and heaviest helicopter in the U.S. military.

Combat Helicopter 2017 will provide an opportunity to hear from Colonel Hank Vanderborght, CH-53 program manager for the Naval Air Systems Command, who will present to military leaders the King Stallion’s range, weight, cargo systems, sensor and additional growth capabilities, along with an overview of the support concept and opportunities for collaboration with partner nations.

For nations not ready to make that leap there are a number of technical upgrades being offered for legacy CH models, or medium lift helicopters are being given extra lift capacity via more powerful engines or more advanced blades.

Countries are even considering whether UAVs are ready to make the grade. Whatever the decision, countries still need to move soldiers and supplies quickly and safely irrespective of the environment's infrastructure - for that reason the heavy lift helicopter discussion continues.

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